I recently played through the game Enslaved:Odyssey To The West. It was entertaining game that kept me occupied for a couple nights, but what interested me the most was the story behind the game. For those of you who don’t know, Enslaved is loosely based on the Chinese epic Journey To The West. While I was playing it got me thinking, where is line between being inspired by a work and ripping it off. Now, to clarify, I am by no means saying the Enslaved is a rip-off of Journey To The West. The only thing that is taken from the source material are some character’s name and a couple themes. The fundamental plot points are significantly different.
For those of us in creative fields it is important to define the line between inspiration and rip-off. This line will often be a very blurry and personal one. Humans have been telling stories in some form or another for millennia, so in today’s world it hard to find a story that is 100% original and not influenced in some way, shape or form by some other work. The best example I can think of off hand is J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord Of The Rings which defined the fantasy genre even to this day. Dozens, if not hundreds of works are directly influenced by LOTR but are original works, only borrowing themes and concepts first set forth by Tolkien.
In the end an influenced piece should be subtle. Using concepts and ideas set forth by someone else’s work, the new work should strive to create its own world and reality completely unique to that piece. Only when a new work begins copying vast amounts, verbatim, from a pre-existing work do you begin to rip-off someone else’s hard work.